CLU Sues NJ University Over Censorship of Alumni Magazine

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
April 19, 1999 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of New Jersey
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Monday, April 19, 1999

NEWARK, NJ — The ACLU of New Jersey announced today that it had filed suit against Rutgers University for refusing to publish an ad submitted to its alumni magazine by a group opposed to university’s growing emphasis on athletics.

The group — known as “Rutgers 1000” — is composed of faculty, students, and alumni who believe that the university places too much emphasis on its sports program at the expense of its academic program.

In 1998, the group sought to purchase an ad in the Rutgers Alumni magazine soliciting additional members and inviting inquiries about the group and its goals. The magazine refused to publish the ad, citing a policy of refusing “advocacy advertising.”

In legal papers, the ACLU argued that the university’s refusal to publish the ad and its policy of discriminating against political advertising in general, violates both the federal and state constitutions.

“Political advocacy is entitled to the highest degree of constitutional protection,” said Flavio Komuves, the attorney handling the case for the ACLU. “A government policy discriminating against such speech must have a compelling justification, and Rutgers has none.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit also charges that the university’s refusal to publish the ad means that Rutgers 1000 has no means of reaching out to alumni. University officials refused the group’s request to rent the alumni mailing list so that direct mail appeals could be sent.

Richard Seclow, a spokesman for Rutgers 1000, expressed dismay at the actions of his alma mater. “Rutgers University, which is institutionally committed to the free exchange of ideas, should be the last place in the world to even think of banning an ad because it presents an idea rather than a product,” he said.

“I can’t imagine a policy more at odds with the goals of the university than the one they relied on to bar our ad,” Seclow added.

Rutgers 1000 had sought to purchase a one-third page advertisement captioned “For Rutgers Alumni — A Time to Choose.” The ad contained a quote from Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, an alumni member of the group: “Universities exist to transmit knowledge and understanding of ideas and values to students, not to provide entertainment for spectators or employment for athletes.” The ad also solicited readers to join the campaign and to send money to support Rutgers 1000’s activities.

“By refusing to publish advocacy advertising, Rutgers magazine ensures that the only advocacy expressed in the magazine is Rutgers’ own,” said David Rocah, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of New Jersey. “That kind of government censorship is exactly what the Constitution prohibits.”

The case, Rutgers 1000 Alumni Council v. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, was filed in the New Jersey Superior Court, Chancery Division, Middlesex County. Flavio L. Komuves, of the law firm Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer in Woodbridge, New Jersey, is counsel for the plaintiff on behalf of the ACLU of New Jersey.

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